I Saw Gloria Steinem and It Made Me Feel…

A 77 year-old woman was standing before me, and my heart was practically beating out of my chest. She had the air of a much, much younger woman, impeccable style, and gesticulations so sharp and sincere, you’d have to be Wonder Woman not to feel her words. Yet, I’m sure Wonder Woman would be in just as much in awe as I was when I heard Gloria Steinem speak. 

Yes, I saw Gloria Steinem speak, and it made me feel empowered, frustrated, empathetic, concerned, surprised, thrilled, and joyous all at the same time.

Empowered because I was sitting amongst a large group of women and men who each believed that some things—many things—in society weren’t right yet. And we were here together to find a way to make change.

Frustrated because although today’s society is more accepting of women who act like men, it is still against men who act like women. Frustrated because society says it’s okay for a little girl to like Batman, but a little boy can’t like Tinker Bell.

Empathetic because all the movements—women’s rights, minority rights, gay rights, environmental, and others—are all connected. We have more in common that we ever thought. If we help each other, we can all take steps toward achieving a more equal, clean, and friendly world.

Concerned because sex trafficking still exists. Prostitution is glorified by the media in such movies as Pretty Woman. Rape is still a taboo topic, even though it needs to be brought in the open and discussed honestly.

Surprised because we take the power of words for granted every day. Would you really call a young man a “boy” like you call the young women in the office “girls?” Why do we have to add adjectives when talking about women? Why say “chick lit” and “chick flicks,” when you don’t say “men’s books” and “prick flicks?” Why say female doctor and women writer, when you don’t say male doctor and men writer?

Thrilled because there is hope that one day we will no longer categorize ourselves. Someday, we’ll all just be human.

And joyous because I have the chance to make change. Like Ms. Steinem said, “change is like building a house. You start from the bottom up, not from the top down.”

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Interview with Comic Writer Jeremy Whitley

Yeah, I know, I interviewed a dude. But give this guy a chance! He’s got a lot of interesting things to say about women in comics. First of all, he writes the comic Princeless. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and, if you’re interested, you can read more about the comic in my recent review.

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

 
It’s about a princess who saves herself, rides a dragon, and faces down terrifying monsters with nothing but a sword and her wits.

 

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?

 
All time, Y: The Last May by Brian K Vaughn and Pia Guerra.  Currently…Batwoman.
 
 
Who is your least favorite author (of any medium and genre)?
 
Is is fair to take Stephenie Meyer?  Should she be off the table as too obvious?  Scott Lobdell goes here for comics, but I feel like that’s phoned in too.  He’s just too awful.
 
 
What is your dream job?
 
Professional writer.  Not of one thing in particular though.  I want to have my own creator owned stuff, but I’d really like to add something to that great superhero mythos as well.  I’d love Marvel to hire me to write a B level female superhero, one of the ones I feel just doesn’t get the stories she deserves.  Storm, Misty Knight, Dust or Ms Marvel.
 
 
What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics?
 
I’ve always loved comics, but I had not read them in some time while I was actually studying to be a writer.  I stumbled on Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men while hunting down issue 1 of Buffy Season 8 and it reminded me why I loved comics.  From there, I put my head down and went for it.  So…while my dad got me into comics initially, I guess Joss Whedon inspired me to start writing them.  Never thought about it that way. 
 
 
What was the last book you read?
 
I honestly haven’t read many non-graphic books recently (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but the last thing I read was this great new all-ages comic called “The Intrepid Escape Goat” from 3rd World Studios.  It’s kind of an amazing book.
 
 
If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?
 
“Sister Rosetta” by The Noisettes
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
“Creator” by Santi White
Definitely something by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Regina Spektor
 
 
No doubt your comic, Princeless, attempts to break down stereotypical portrayals of women in fairy tales (and comics). What inspired you to create Princeless? Were you ever concerned that writing a strong female lead might deter some readers?
 
I wanted to write this story because at the time I was considering the future and that my wife and I hoped to have a daughter.  I wanted to be able to share my love of comics with her and I wanted to write the sort of story that I would want her to be reading.  I’ve always been incredibly bothered by the princess culture that we push so many girls into. It’s okay for girls to like what they like, but if all they ever know is helplessness, rescue, and subjugation then what are they going to become?  I certainly want more than that for and from my daughter.
 
As for whether having a strong female protaganist would deter people from reading, the thought hadn’t really crossed my mind.  I guess I figure that if strong women bother them than they’re not my audience anyway.  Also, probably not people I want to get to know.
 
 
What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and (particularly) writers in regards to getting their stuff published?
 
Think.  Work.  Create interesting characters.  Keep putting things out there.  Go to conventions even if you don’t have anything to sell.  Talk to the people who are doing what you want to do.  Make connections and make friends.  Keep going.  If you can’t find anyone to publish your stuff, publish it yourself.  When you have success, it’s going to feel like luck, but remember all the work you put into being lucky and don’t stop working.
 
 
What was most challenging about founding (and managing) Firetower Studios?
 
The most challenging thing about being an Indy comic creator is also the most challenging thing about being an indy comics publisher:  Keeping your head up.  It feels like no one is reading your comic.  To this day I’m certain I’ve spent more money on Firetower than I’ve made and that’s especially tough as a writer where you have less chance to do commission work at conventions and make your table money back.  In fact, I think SPX last year may be the first show where I actually made money…well, if you don’t count what I spent on the hotel and food.
 
 
How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?
 
I’m obviously not an expert at being a woman in comics, but it seems to me that it’s way harder for women.  There’s a fair amount of misogyny in the industry and fanbase, but beyond that, there’s the question.  How will people receive your work once they know you’re female?  Will that effect whether or not they buy your work or hire you for a job.  Then there’ll always be those that insist that you only got the job because they needed a girl who blanks.  I’m very rarely asked what it’s like being a white man who writes comics, but no matter how good female creators are, that’s always going to be a question for them.
 
 
What is your next project?
 
Well, Princeless Book 2 should start making its way out a little later this year, but right now I have my fingers in a lot of other pies.  Firetowerstudios.com puts up new webcomics every weekday and we’ll have two (maybe three) new books coming out this summer.  All of them are written by me and all feature female leads.  That wasn’t a plan, it just happened that way.  “Illegal” which I’m doing with artist Charlie Harper is a book about being an undocumented immigrant in an increasingly monitored and socially stratified future.  It’s an action book, despite that description.  “Skip”, which I’m working on with artist Rich Lombardi, is a more traditional super hero comic, but it follows a superheroine who’s very new to the business and finds herself in the middle of a fight to the death between the forces of good and evil.  Finally, “The Last Fairy Tale” which I’m working on with artist Jason Strutz is a story about a future where magic has devastated the world and the few lone survivors live in magically protected communities.  One girl stumbles on one such community that suffering from a mysterious, but incredibly familiar curse.

Review and Rating of Princeless

Princeless appeals to all my feminist sensibilities. And while I’ve thus far made an attempt to keep these sensibilities out of my reviews (and into the ratings), I’m breaking my rule (But really, I named my blog Ms.Comix. Perhaps quiet feminism wasn’t ever in the plans). So here’s the compromise. Let me first present you with an analytical review of Princeless. Then, allow me to unleash the feminist. Deal?

Princeless conveys its main plot quite explicitly in its name alone. A young woman, a princess named Adrienne, is locked away in a tall tower. But she’s unlike the princesses of your typical fairytale. Adrienne decides she doesn’t want to wait around for a prince, so she befriends the dragon guarding her tower and saves herself. Now, she’s on a quest to save all her sisters.

The plot is unique (I’ve certainly never read anything like it before), but the concept of a fairytale parody (think Enchanted) is borderline cliché.  However, this cliché is forgiven pretty quickly, as the art compels. The lively yet cool color pallet sets a tone in accordance with the pithy, light writing style. The large panels, sometimes full page in size, create a more casual reading experience.

What I enjoy most about Princeless is the characterization. Adrienne is the kick-butt type, and it works. She’s loud, opinionated, and clever. And she’s surrounded by an equally dynamic cast—a prince who seems to have a thing for frogs, a brother who enjoys the beauty of words, and a girlfriend who is half dwarf and can wield an impossibly massive hammer. In short, the characters of Princeless are not cardboard cutouts or anything close to it.

Expect a pleasant ride when you pick up issue one (and don’t expect you’ll be content to stop there!). Princeless is enjoyable, casual, and simple enough for children yet profound enough to touch upon issues most comics simply ignore.

And that’s where the feminist comes in.

Here’s my thought process when it comes to fiction: A writer has the power to shape an alternate reality. She has the ability to create a better world, to not take the real world’s social conventions as a given. A writer has the power to undo stereotypes. Yet, very few writers of fiction recognize this power.

I have read far too many fantasies that accept society’s stereotypes as given.  If you have the chance to create a whole new world, why are your female characters old hags, bitchy villains, innocent young lovers, or caring mothers?  (If you need an example, read the Eragon series. Why are the village women always so…domesticated?) Why not seize upon this opportunity to cast women in nuanced roles that more accurately portray their potential, roles that denounce the stereotypes of a patriarchal society?

Princeless, happily, does seize this opportunity. Princeless (perhaps even to the point of potentially harming its plot and characterization) constantly questions women’s role in this fantasy world.

“I don’t need a hero or a prince or anyone else!” states Adrienne.  And when presented with the so-called armor (e.g. chainmail bikinis) of a woman warrior, the princess declares what women in the real world (and especially women who read comics!) so often believe, “Just because I have a woman’s body doesn’t mean I have to show it to everyone! Especially if I’m on a quest. Why can’t I just be a hero?”

I want my little sister to read this comic. I want my future daughter to read this comic. I want you to go out and read this comic and then go out and read this comic to the little girl or boy in your life.

Let’s start undoing stereotypes!

Princeless is currently available through Diamond (in stores everywhere!).  Additionally, it is available digitally on graphic.ly at http://graphicly.com/search?q=princeless.

% Panels Devoted to Women

Okay, I’m not counting. Too many. (Don’t you love when that happens?). Let’s say…98%.

Women in Action

 ★★★Women often participate in plot-moving action.

Um, yeah, like constantly.

Women as Leaders

★★★Women often lead the other characters.

Ditto. 

Women as Sex Objects

★★★Women are depicted as sexy (or their sex is not emphasized at all), but their allure does not define their purpose as a prominent, plot-moving character in the comic.

Adrienne’s a pretty girl. That’s all there is to it. She’s not oversexualized at all. (Expect, of course, when she has to wear a Wonder-Woman-esque outfit and is catcalled by some of the king’s men. But that was to make a point.)

Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes

★★★Men deviate dramatically from the male stereotype. They express their emotions, use creativity, and think of others.

Adrienne’s brother for example. Can’t swing a sword to save his life, but he knows a good book when he sees one.